It happens up and down the country, around about 5 or 6pm, on a daily basis. The presses swing open, the fridge door creaks as the search begins for the answer to the inevitable question – “what’s for dinner?”. You’ve been on the go all day and the last thing you feel like doing is spending the next hour in the kitchen, peeling, chopping and stirring.
Thankfully, the thought of finding something healthy for your family’s dinner doesn’t have to fill you with dread.
Nor does it mean having to spend ages in the kitchen preparing everything from scratch. Keeping a stock of a few carefully selected items in your press, fridge and freezer can open up a world of potential dinners (or lunches for that matter!) that you can get on the table with minimal time or effort. These are all things that I regularly have in my own presses for when I need something quick and easy (even nutritionists need convenience sometimes!).
My 8 essentials for Healthy Family Meals in a Hurry, whatever your budget
1) Tinned beans & pulses – these un-sung heroes are
versatile, budget-friendly and easy to use.
Not to mention jam-packed with nutrients including fibre, protein, B vitamins and minerals like magnesium, zinc and iron. Beans, lentils and chickpeas can be added to salads and soups or they can feature as the main event in things like curries, pasta dishes or chilli. They can also be a side dish, served with fish or meat as an alternative to rice, pasta or potatoes. So which ones do you need? I always tend to have cannellini, kidney and black beans as well as mixed beans to hand. Tinned green lentils are another good option and chickpeas are a must. Experiment to find out which ones your family enjoy and go with that – there’s no right or wrong.
2) Other ‘must-have’ tinned/jarred foods
Tinned tomatoes/passata can be the basis of so many family-friendly meals – there’s always 2 or 3 tins lurking in the presses here
Tomato puree is used regularly too – I use it to make pizza sauce or to add to soups or casseroles
Full-fat coconut milk is handy for quick & easy curries or as a replacement for cream in dishes like chicken and broccoli bake
Tinned fish such as salmon or tuna can be added to pasta bakes or used to make fish cakes to boost protein and healthy fat content
Sweetcorn is popular in this house, so it’s a staple on our shopping list
Jarred peppers can add great flavour to sauces and soups or are great as a pizza topping too.
3) Nuts, seeds and nut butters – again, these guys are really versatile. Adding them at the end of
dishes can add crunch as well as fibre, protein and healthy fat to things like stir-fries, curries, soups and salads. Nuts and seeds can be used as toppings for desserts or in homemade granolas or breads. Nut butters (peanut and almond are my faves!) can form the basis of marinades or sauces for meat or vegetables. They all make great snack options too!
4) Dry ingredients – Choose wholemeal/wholegrain options over white as much as possible. I generally have a selection of wholemeal pasta and noodles, as well as quinoa and brown rice in the press. For those really hectic days, you might even keep a couple of pre-cooked rice or quinoa sachets in the press. Risotto or paella rice are also great options but do require a little more love and attention during cooking, so maybe save these ones for when you have a little more time. Dried lentils can be used to bulk up (or replace meat) in dishes like shepherd’s pie or can be added to casseroles or soups to add protein. Oats and ground almonds can be used as an alternative to breadcrumbs to coat meat or to top a pie or bake (and taste great in desserts too).
5) Fridge essentials:
Eggs, I’m never without them. They are a nutritional powerhouse -
a quick and easy meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Omelettes, frittatas, boiled and added to salads, poached in huevos rancheros – the options are endless.
Halloumi can be used in more ways than you might think – kebabs, curries, salads, burgers – a great choice for a meat-free meal to boost protein.
Olives are a good source of monounsaturated fats and taste great in pasta dishes, salads, on top of homemade pizzas or just as a snack.
Good quality bacon, chorizo and smoked salmon can be included in meals to add flavour without needing to use large quantities – I love using chorizo in soups and a little bacon in pasta sauces.
Pre-made fresh pesto works brilliantly as a marinade, a dressing for salads or roasted veg or to stir through pasta.
6) Freezer options:
Frozen vegetables are a massive time-saver when you need dinner on the table in a hurry.
Most supermarkets sell onions, peppers and mushrooms already chopped and frozen, and these make a great base for lots of meals. Bags of frozen stir-fry veg and mixes including staples like carrots, broccoli, spinach and cauliflower are also great for adding colour and variety. Vegetables tend to be frozen very soon after picking which helps to retain all of the nutrients, meaning you get the health benefits, as well as the convenience
Frozen fish fillets (plain, not in breadcrumbs) are really handy for tray-bakes, curries or for stirring through pasta
My most recent find is frozen avocado pieces – so handy for a quick guacamole or salad – and does away with the inevitable waste when the avocado goes bad in the fruit bowl!
7) Flavour boosters – even the simplest of meals can be transformed by adding a few herbs and/or spices to really enhance the flavour. If your spice rack is anything like mine, it’s probably overflowing with jars of things that rarely get used!
But there are a few that get pulled out on a regular basis.
Oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme are the herbs I couldn’t live without. Favourite spices include turmeric, paprika (plain and smoked), cinnamon, garam masala, cumin and coriander. Salt and black pepper get used daily. Condiments like soy sauce, mustard, relishes and chutneys can also really add flavour to your meals.
8) Shop-bought time-savers – it may seem strange for a nutritionist to recommend “convenience” foods, but the reality is that we all need something we can pull out of the fridge or freezer and have ready in a flash when time (or motivation) is in short supply.
Things like ready-made falafels, veg burgers, veggie sausages and pudding, pre-made soups are all brilliant options for lunch or dinner, saving you time while still being tasty and a better option than a takeaway.
It's just about checking out the ingredients first.
There are a few pre-made sauces that I buy for when I don’t have time to make everything from scratch – things like harissa, curry spice mix, Thai curry paste and stir-fry sauces. I regularly post recipes on my social media pages showing the different brands that I like to use – you can check those out (using the social links above) to get some inspiration on how to use the ingredients I've mentioned.
With a selection of some of the ingredients above in your armoury, mealtimes no longer need to feel like such a chore and
you can put quick, healthy and delicious meals on the table for your family,
even on the busiest of days when you really don’t feel like cooking.
If you would like to talk in more detail about how you can incorporate some of the items above into your family’s weeknight meals, don’t hesitate to get in touch and book a FREE 20 minute call to see how I can help.